Ahmedabad: The Gujarat government on Thursday announced setting up of special courts in 16 districts of the state to handle cases related to atrocities on Dalits.
According to a government notification, the special atrocity courts would be functional from October 1 and would also have government pleaders to help the victims.
"We have decided to set up these special courts across the state keeping in mind the interests of the Dalit community's long-pending demand," Pradipsinh Jadeja, Gujarat's Minister of State for Home, said.
The districts are Ahmedabad Rural, Anand, Palanpur, Bharuch, Bhavnagar, Gandhinagar, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Kutch, Mehsana, Patan, Rajkot, Surat, Surendranagar, Vadodara and in the city civil court, Ahmedabad.
This follows a sustained movement for Dalit rights, initiated by activist Jignesh Mevani in the wake of public flogging of Dalit youths at Una in Gir-Somnath district on July 11 for allegedly skinning dead cows. He launched a state-wide agitation in July and the Dalits had even stopped removing carcasses of animals.
"We have been demanding such for many years. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act exists since 1989. But neither the BJP nor the Congress government did anything about it. That they are now doing is the moral victory of our movement," Mewani told IANS, reacting to the government decision.
Asked if this would take the steam out of their agitation, Mewani said, "Number one, setting up of the courts is not the end of it, given the fact that conviction in our state is hardly four per cent. The State and its machinery have to change the mindset."
Similarly, Majula Pradip, Executive Director of Navsarjan Trust, which has been fighting for Dalit rights for many years, says, "Setting of such courts has been our demand for many years. But this is not all."
"The numbers tell us the picture of government apathy. The State Crime Records Bureau has on record around 14,500 cases of attacks on Dalits since 2001, making an annual average of over 1,000 cases or three cases every day in the Gujarat. The conviction rate, against that, is low as three to five per cent," Manjula told IANS.
Against this, the neighbouring state of Rajasthan reports a conviction rate of around 45 per cent, while 25 of its 33 districts already have special courts to handle Dalit atrocity cases.
Many see the government move as a political tactic to pacify the agitating Dalits, but Mewani asserted that, "Let them not be under the impression that this would be enough for Dalits to shelve their agitation."